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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 19:52 GMT
US terror suspect defies court
Zacarias Moussaoui
Moussaoui stayed seated when judge left the chamber
A US court has entered a plea of not guilty for the first man charged with offences linked to the 11 September attacks.

In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plea and I do not enter a plea

Zacarias Moussaoui
Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, refused to enter a plea himself.

Mr Moussaoui appeared in a US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, amid tight security.

The charges against him include conspiracy to commit terrorism, to hijack and destroy planes, to use weapons of mass destruction and to murder. Four carry a possible death penalty.

"In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plea and I do not enter a plea, thank you very much," Mr Moussaoui said, leading judge Leonie Brinkema to enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Mr Moussaoui sat through the 28-minute hearing wearing a green overall, the word "prisoner" stamped in faded white on the back.

Date set

He was the only person in the court to remain seated as the judge left the chamber.

Ms Brinkema set 30 September as a date for jury selection and 14 October for the start of the trial.

She dismissed defence arguments that the dates did not allow enough time to study the evidence and were too close to the anniversary of the attacks.

Zacarias Moussaoui outside a London Underground station
Zacarias Moussaoui had lived in London
She said she was confident an impartial jury could be found despite the court being just a few miles from the Pentagon, where one of the airliners crashed on 11 September.

But the BBC's Rob Watson says the court was chosen because of its reputation for dishing out tough sentences.

US Attorney-General John Ashcroft earlier described Mr Moussaoui as an "active participant" in the conspiracy which led to four planes being hijacked and nearly 3,000 people dying in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

He is alleged to be the 20th hijacker, the man who should have joined the 19 others who seized control of the planes on 11 September.

One theory is that he should have been aboard the plane which eventually crashed in Pennsylvania with only four hijackers on board. The other three planes had five hijackers.

Arrest in August

What stopped Mr Moussaoui, say the authorities, was his arrest in August, initially on immigration charges.

It is claimed that he had received money from al-Qaeda, had been acting suspiciously at a flight training school and had computer information about crop-spraying.

His mother, who has travelled to the US from France, has said her son is innocent.

Correspondents say that what is known of the evidence so far appears to be circumstantial. But the authorities insist that the case is very strong.

Prosecutors now have until 29 March to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"US investigators believe that Moussaoui was trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan"
The BBC's Tom Carver in Alexandria, Virginia
"The government's case against Moussaoui is that he was intimately involved in the planning"
See also:

13 Dec 01 | Americas
Open trial for US terror suspect
11 Dec 01 | Americas
America's first accused
02 Jan 02 | Americas
Courtroom view of terror trial
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